Chris and I took a trek to Macchu Picchu - not the Inca Trail, which was booked solid, but the Salkantay trail. We joined a commercial trip (as they are dead cheap and then we didn't have to carry our gear or food), on this alternative to the Inca trail. The trail starts at Molleparta, on the dry, dusty side of the watershed, and for the 1st day follows a rather boring dirt road to a campsite on a high meadow at 3600m. The second day was much better- the trail ran between high, snowcapped and very craggy peaks (very Himalaya like) to a pass at 4600m, on the shoulder of Salkantay, a 6300m giant covered in hanging glaciers. From there the trail dropped down to another meadow at 3600m where we had lunch. Just below this, the cloud forest started- this is the east side of the Andes, and convection pulls moist air from the Amazon below, allowing an amazingly rich flora to develop. Needless to say, I dawdled down, taking many hundreds of photos of exotic blooms on the way (This is the bit when everyone decides not to come round and look at my holiday pics!). Hummingbirds flitted around, and a pair of young spectacled bears showed themselves to our guide, who was 5 minutes ahead of us... they´d buggered off by the time I caught him up!
Camp was at 2600m, much warmer! The next day we descended thru the Banana belt, to the town of St. Theresa, where commercial hot springs eased our weary muscles. The day after that initially followed a hot and boring road up a valley, but the geology soon changed, as we entered granite country, and the valley became a deep gorge between soaring peaks. A hydroelectricity scheme had its outflow here, an impressive volume of water, with a 300m or so head, taken by tunnel from a low-rise dam some 30km upstream. An amazing engineering feat which provides a good chunk of Peru´s electric needs.
From there, we followed the railway tracks of the Macchu Piccu line as it circled the mountain that the citadel sits on. Rainforest filled with parroty things, and shear granite walls lined with bromeliads surrounded us. A fantastic walk! It finished at Aguas Caliente, a miserable and overpriced tourist town squished at the bottom of the gorge, where we overnighted.
An early start the next day- 4am- to climb to Macchu Picchu by dawn. (about 450m vertically). It may be touristy, but the place has a massive WOW factor! The photos don´t do it justice, its incredible. The best bit is the stunning setting- like Fiordland in NZ but with ruins. We also climbed Waynupicchu ( the big pointy mountain at the back of the ruins), which had the most amazingly steep paths up it. A great day!
Back at Cusco, we blew out our budget at a stunning restaurant - the Fallen Angel (www.fallenangelincusco.com) - the same place that hosted a fantastic party the week before (complete with DJs from Heaven in London, and several giant drag queens - Most unexpected in Cusco!). Highly recommended if anyone visits Peru.
Then on to Puno and Lake Titicaca. Puno is a miserable place, though for me its top attraction was a Puya raymondii - a truely spectacular bromeliad (a type of herbaceous plant). If anyone doubts its spectacularness, do a google search.
We took a lake cruise to the floating islands (artificial reed islands home to an Indian tribe), and to the islands of Amantani and Taquile. We stayed overnight with a family at Amantani, and visited the sacred shrine of Pachatata (earth father god) at sunset. (Catholicism seems a rather thin veneer here). The trip was touristy and a bit slow, though Lake Titicaca is very beautiful, reminding me of the Greek Islands in the Agean.
We have now just arrived in La Paz, Bolivia, a busy city overlooked by a whole string of massive snow-capped volcanos. Our friends Fred and Hazel arrive tomorrow, so hopefully we will soon be standing on the summits of some of these peaks with them.
Till the next time, all the best to everyone!